Retail jobs satisfy least

Survey finds 40% in sector are planning to find other work in '03

`Surprising' level of discontent

Nearly 60% are unhappy with low pay, compared with 50% in all industries

January 21, 2003|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Retail workers are more dissatisfied with their jobs than are employees in other industries and are more likely to be planning a job change this year, a national survey by a Chicago-based recruiter shows.

But the industry, known for high turnover rates, is at the same time making strides in boosting wages and upgrading its image to attract and keep the best workers, experts say.

The survey, released last week by online placement firm CareerBuilder, found that four in 10 retail workers plan to hunt for a new job this year, compared with 35 percent of workers in all industries.

Of 2,300 workers surveyed, 36 percent of retail workers said they felt dissatisfied, compared with 29 percent of workers in industries such as health services, manufacturing, information technology, banking and government.

"The most surprising trend was how much more dissatisfied the retail workers were than others," said Richard Castellini, CareerBuilder's retail expert. "The retail sector over the last few years has been one of the strongest, with job loss less than telecom or IT, but yet their workers are among the most dissatisfied."

Retail workers blamed dissatisfaction with their pay and their work/life balance. Nearly 60 percent of retail workers surveyed said they were unhappy with their pay, compared with about half of those surveyed in all industries.

"Workers across the board are being squeezed from a production standpoint," Castellini said. Companies, including retailers, "are trying to get more out of less. Most of the gains in the economy last year were from productivity."

The findings are not surprising considering that retail offers so many entry-level jobs and requires work in the evenings and on weekends, said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

But the industry is making strides in its efforts to attract and retain workers, Saquella said. For one thing, starting salaries have increased in recent years to be more competitive and now range from $7.50 per hour to $9 per hour, he said.

"I don't know of any merchants paying ... minimum wage to start," he said. "Along with that is this effort to professionalize the industry. The industry is trying to do a better job in trying to get the word out that there is a career here for you, especially if you are going to school."

Toward that end, the sales and service training center at Arundel Mills mall, a partnership between mall owner the Mills Corp., Anne Arundel Community College and the National Retail Federation, trains students in skills that will help them get or advance in retail jobs.

The center, which opened in November 2000, trains students in customer-service skills for retail and other jobs through a four-week course, one of which will start at the end of the month, and a 10-hour refresher course.

"From the employees' point of view, it can give them an edge, especially younger people who may not realize the importance of resumes and dressing right," said Sandra Hunt, director of continuing professional education for Anne Arundel Community College, which oversees the center.

And "from employers' point of view, turnover can be very costly for them if they get people who don't work out," she said. "It costs money and time on the part of the employer to replace that person."

In one of the more positive findings of the CareerBuilder survey, 47 percent of the retail workers felt they could find comparable jobs quickly, compared with 37 percent of workers in other industries.

Retail workers ranked salary and work/life balance as the most important factors in their job and ranked stock options the least important of 16 categories.

"This isn't the go-go '90s anymore," said Castellini. "People aren't interested in empty promises of stock options, so we'd say to employers to spend time and money on other things.

"Nonmonetary retention tools are a great way for employers to retain what they would consider superstars in retail," he said. CareerBuilder is partly owned by the Tribune Co., publisher of The Sun.

Bill Glazer, owner of Baltimore-area men's apparel stores Gage Worldclass Menswear, said he has successfully kept quality employees by creating an environment in which workers feel appreciated, for instance by having an annual employee dinner and handing out nonmonetary monthly certificates that recognize good work.

"Our turnover is very, very small," he said.

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